Isolation Isn't the Answer to Division

By Gourtsoyannis, Paris | The Scotsman, August 30, 2016 | Go to article overview

Isolation Isn't the Answer to Division


Gourtsoyannis, Paris, The Scotsman


It isn't hard to see why Theresa May's announcement of an "equality audit" at the weekend has been greeted with some scepticism.

The rhetoric sounds unfamiliar being spoken by a Conservative Prime Minister, even one who pledged on the steps of Downing Street to root out the "burning injustices" of race discrimination and poor educational attainment among the white working class.

Announced in the dead of August, with most people on holiday and the Labour Party absent for reasons of its own, the measure doesn't on its own represent a ground-breaking push for equality.

But it at least reinforces the principle that the role of the state is to foster greater inclusion, whether in response to racial division, lack of economic opportunity, or the isolation of Muslim communities being preyed upon by individuals seeking to radicalise their young people.

We already know that inequality exists, but having the evidence to define and pinpoint the problem can help to galvanise a response.

In the wake of the 2011 riots in England, research into the use of stop and search tactics by police confirmed that more than a decade after the judicial inquiry into the Steven Lawrence murder, young black men remained seven times as likely to be stopped than their white peers. Shocked by evidence figures showing less than one in ten of those stops resulted in an arrest, May, then Home Secretary, demanded restrictions on the use of the tactic.

Similarly, at the start of the last decade, the appalling outcomes at inner city schools in the capital prompted the London Challenge, a initiative so successful that aspects of it are now being mimicked in Scotland.

The areas that benefited most, such as Tower Hamlets, were those with large minority communities. A response on that scale is now needed for white boys in the depressed coastal towns of England, where a toxic mix of poor schools and a lack of jobs have seen areas leftbehind. It isn't a coincidence that those same areas voted heavily for Brexit.

May's announcement is heartening because it insists that everyone is entitled to play an equal part in society, regardless of their background, and it is the role of the state to allow that to take place.

If that sounds like a straightforward and uncontroversial principle, then look across the Channel. Images from France last week of three armed police surrounding a woman on a beach, forcing her to undress, seem like something out of a surreal comedy. It's the kind of bizarre and unsettling dystopian scene that you might see in a Banksy mural.

As an advert for liberal democracy, those images fail so catastrophically that they could easily be used as recruiting posters for its opponents. The fight against radicalisation is deadly serious, and the idea a so-called "burkini ban" does anything to advance that cause is laughable.

Thankfully, a higher court has struck down the local regulations imposed by one Riviera town, putting the mayors of Nice, Cannes and other municipalities with similar rules on notice. …

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